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  • Writer's pictureThe Jim Gray Gallery

There are Places I Remember...

Updated: May 10, 2019

The Beatles lovely song should be playing softly behind this reminiscing post.

How about that... by the miracle of our memory, if you are familiar with that song, it is probably playing in your mind now! And wonderfully so, in the mind of people living with dementia, music remains recognized long after other memories have faded. In a very informative Facebook message from a friend, she told me, "I want to share something that was invaluable to me as I made the journey you are on. Music is the last thing that is lost and brings peace and comfort. A dementia patient does not have to follow a story line with music, as it is only in the moment." Thank you my friend. I will be posting more of your insights as we go along. I have watched my Dad,sitting quietly and not engaged, recognize an instrumental tune to a song from the Fifties, and start to sing the words. Those memories, rooted somewhere deep in the brain, give Dad a sense of peace and comfort as they are brought forth and given voice. There is no searching for the right word or trying to express an idea, there is simply song, and the joy that it brings. Music is a familiar background that can provide a place to anchor and escape the turmoil of confusion.

Even the background buildings in Jim's Joy of Life Parade have special meaning.

The years Jim and Fran lived in Knoxville were prime. Jim was on the very top of his game as an artist, and even though he still loved to paint the mountains and the sea, he was also drawn to the unique architecture of the cities. The Old City of Knoxville was being renovated, and there was a good energy and vibe among these old brick buildings that were coming back to life. Seeing this most recognizable structure painted there in front of him, Jim relates to it like an old friend he is glad to see again.

Tucked into a front window of Jim's portrayal of the Sullivan's Saloon is a secondary image that hearkens back to another memory from about 1938.

(Look at the window on the domed building in front of and below the trumpet Man)

In a round about way, the image in that window was woven into the fabric of Jim's life story, and threads from it can be found in a painting he created at age 72 after pondering many times on how to recreate an illusion without copying an idea.

In his hand written notes, Jim wrote three pages dealing with all this. The heading is shown here, but I will type out the entirety for the sake of saving a bit of space in this post.

How does one "get into" art? I'm sure the ways and reasons are as varied as any other profession or way of life and livelihood.

I'm sure my interest in art and doing it is as unusual as any other way.

I am convinced after all these years(I'm 80 now) I can claim a unique "start in art".

I was six years old and my mother had taken me to sign and register me for 1st grade at the Corinth Mississippi school. Having successfully done that, my Mother decided to drop by and visit with one of her sisters, my dear Aunt Park.

They were sitting on my Aunt's front porch and I was playing with some other kids. We were tossing and throwing a ball that came in my direction. I was running to get the ball and failed to see a wire fence around a freshly sodded area. I tripped and fell and broke my right arm at the elbow. All three bones in the joint were broken. I was rushed to the Hospital and my Dad met us there.

There was a bit of a wait before the doctor could get to me. I held my arm and I think they gave me a pill. I remember pacing around the waiting room. My parents wanted me to sit and be still but I remember I just didn't want to sit down.

All is Vanity - by Charles Allan Gilbert 1873 - 1929

There was a "picture" hanging on the wall across from me that held my attention. It seemed to change while I was looking at it. I kept going over to it and staring at it... one look and I would see a beautiful lady looking at herself in a large round vanity mirror...I would blink my eyes and it would change into a large skull only. I could get it to change in my eyes and head. The pretty lady was looking at herself in the large round mirror and her head and hair and her reflection in the mirror made the upper part of the image of the skull. The make-up jars and perfume bottles and hair-brush made the teeth and lower part of the skull. My Dad had walked over to me to get me to come back and sit down. I asked him about the picture and we talked about it... "did some one take a Kodak and make the picture?" Dad said that he thought some one had drawn it in black pencil or something like that and had signed his name.

Then it was time to go in and see the Doctor and my day got a bit more painful. I was sure the ether was going to kill me - the next thing I remember was waking up with a cast on my right arm that kept it on one side of my chin.

( To turn my head I had to raise my chin.) I couldn't use my fingers even for a while. In a few weeks the cast was changed and lowered down from my chin and I was able to use my right hand and arm a bit. I got a pencil and some paper and tried to draw a skull. I think I got a picture of one some where and kept trying to do one like the picture at the hospital. I got better at drawing skulls, ( I'm sure my parents were probably concerned that I drew so many skulls and made them out of modeling clay as well. I was never good at throwing a ball with my right arm, but I got better and better at drawing.

About sixty five years later, Jim Gray finally accomplished what he had set out to do, with the creation of his painting "The Evil of Gossip".

Note from author and son :

* I am going to inject an observation here... this six year old kid with a broken arm was processing with his eyes and in his mind, the complexity of the illusion that Charles Allan Gilbert had drawn. I never saw the image in the Sullivan Saloon window, until I read in the notes Dad left. These treasures just keep unfolding!

Also, just before our family moved to the mountains in 1966, my Mom had registered me for first grade at the school in Daphne Alabama. We moved to Tennessee in August, so she re-registered me at Pi Beta Phi school in Gatlinburg. On Labor Day weekend, at six years old, I was running down the steep hill that led to a pond I just knew had to have fish in it, when I tripped on a tree root and... you guessed it... broke my right arm.

I too started school wearing a cast!

The Paris balcony has a little bit of back story too. My sister Laurie, brother Matt, and myself, decided we were going to pull out all the stops for our folks on their 40th anniversary.

We made the arrangements and surprised them early with a trip for the two of them to celebrate in Paris. Upon their return, we gathered as a family to hear stories and see photos and sketches from the trip. In the course of the evening we also found out that it was actually their 41st anniversary... and we had missed the big one the year before! Still, it was a grand trip and a number of wonderful paintings were done in the studio from photos and sketches on location in the City of Love. Jim remembered Fran's red umbrella and a rainy night in Paris, which he painted in the studio, after they returned home to Tennessee.

Titled simply Rendezvous.

The trip to Old Quebec City was splendid, including snowfall on their November 1st anniversary, which allowed for a wonderful horse drawn sleigh ride through the city streets to celebrate 45 years of marriage. For years, there has been a large sycamore leaf pressed flat in a frame, hanging on the wall of each place they lived since that trip. Written in gold pen, on that leaf that they found while walking down the cobblestones, are words that remind them both of this special anniversary trip.

So hard to believe that could have been more than 20 years ago.

The trip to Old Quebec City was splendid, including snowfall on their November 1st anniversary, which allowed for a wonderful horse drawn sleigh ride through the city streets to celebrate 45 years of marriage.

So hard to believe that could have been more than 20 years ago.

Their 65th anniversary was celebrated in Nashville Indiana on Nov 1, 2018.

Mattt and Amy surprised them both when they arrived with a wrapped up anniversary gift of the Quarter board from the boat Jim and Fran had once owned... Lady Fran.

A quieter affair by far, but the love was not diminished.

For the first time, since beginning this blog, I am adding a significant additional portion to a previous post tonight, rather than writing a new blog. As it is my hope that this project will be read by others at later dates, the new addition will become simply part of the entirety of it. I was on the road yesterday, working a trade show, when I saw the first reports of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. My heart ached for the loss of such a treasure, and my mind immediately recalled the watercolor Dad had done after returning from Paris. Tonight, I add this image of the Cathedral, viewed from across the River Seine. I had posted this image as our Facebook profile picture last night, and have had folks ask if I have told Dad about the fire. So far, I have not. Perhaps I will, but not just now. I am glad that Jim Gray painted this watercolor nearly 25 years ago, and that we can once again treasure a memory, a beautiful memory.


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